Bósnia 1993 - Uma história impressionante.

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Ricardo Nunes

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Bósnia 1993 - Uma história impressionante.
« em: Janeiro 29, 2005, 11:11:54 am »
Esta história foi publicada noutro fórum,  tendo eu pedido ao seu autor e intérprete, Mikael Persson, permissão para a colocar aqui.
Foi uma situação muito tensa e que poderia ter provocado uma massificação do conflito. Leitura obrigatória.

In the fall of 1993 I was serving as a heavy machinegunner at Nordbat 2, Guard & Escort platoon. By the end of september our SISU and a platoon from 10th mech inf company were sent urgently as reinforcements to the 8th mech inf company area of responsibility in Vares. This was because several of the battalion's armored vehicles had been involved in clashes with units of the HVO. The 8th coy had also been subjected to ambushes.

The mood in Vares was nasty and very threatening. No civilians what-so-ever were moving outdoors and the entire time we were close, too close, to losing control of the situation. If we ever had any control that is. We were a few hundred Swedes against an entire Croatian brigade.

Houses were burning here and there in Vares and its surroundings, but from one of the battalion observation posts one could see the light of a fire that from the looks of it was more serious. It seemed as if an entire village was in flames. However, Croatian forces were blocking the access routes and refused to let anyone near the village.

Units from the Swedish battalion had repeatedly been, and still were, subjected to ambushes by "unknown" soldiers. Sometimes they shot back. The whole situation was like walking a thin line. Most of the SISU-vehicles had one or more tires that had been scavenged from less prioritized vehicles. The tires had been blown out and shot at such a pace that no more spares were available. Instead there were now a couple of trucks without wheels put up on blocks in the camp.

The mood between the Croatian forces and the Swedish battalion was as mentioned not the best. Still though the hostilities were not official. Going into the village on the other hand would have meant an open confrontation with the HVO. The Swedish battalion was a few hundred men, and reinforcements were not available in the foreseeable future. Against them, they would have gotten the entire Croatian Bobovac Brigade.

A refugee managed to reach the Nordbat camp and reported that the people in the burning village had been put through terrible atrocities. The village's name was Stupni Do. Rumours had it that some forty villagers had escaped and were hiding in the woods some kilometres from the village, in the middle of the frontline. They were probably trying to reach the Bosnian side of the front.

Together with battalion commander Ulf Henricsson and a few members of his staff we left in our SISU in an attempt to find the refugees. It was dark, houses were burning around us, and we left for the frontline. A couple of times we negotiated our way through checkpoints controlled by HVO, the Bosnian-Croatian army.

We searched with night vision goggles but couldn't find the refugees. We thought we had found their location - a creepy cemetery on the steep hillside. We saw no one and could do nothing alone in the darkness, so we returned to the camp for a couple of hours of sleep.

At the camp all available personnel were in entrenchments. The 8th coy camp was situated in a valley between high mountains and it was a nightmare to protect against assaults or snipers. A letter had been left during the day where they threatened to once again attack the camp. It was biting cold outside and the only thing that didn't freeze was the mud, that reached above the ankles. The fog was thick and made it impossible to see more than 50 meters.

Early in the morning we made another attempt to rescue the refugees. This time we brought two medic SISU's and another armed Guard/Escort SISU. Major Daniel Ekberg was in command of the unit. We negotiated a passage through a couple of checkpoints and went back to the location we had found last evening. There we stopped in the middle of the road in a narrow canyon between two hill slopes. We used our powerful horns on the vehicles and our interpreter Ruzdi Ekenheim explained through a megaphone that we were from UNPROFOR and there to help. Nothing happened. If the refugees really were there they were afraid to show themselves. Twenty minutes passed and soon we would have to leave. If the HVO found us we would be in trouble.

Just when we had begun to give up hope we hear a cry for help from the forest. Little by little twenty five frozen, shocked human remnants come to us. A woman had died during the night, but we had no means of bringing her corpse. We left her body behind.

A pretty girl in her twenties throws herself crying around the neck of Ekenheim. She tells of how she was forced to watch her family get killed. Her boyfriend was on crutches after an injury, and they made her watch them kill him. If she had dropped as much as a tear they would have killed her too. After this they raped her and threw her into a house with some other villagers. The door was blocked and the house was set on fire.

The girl was alive now thanks to a sledge being found. While the house was burning, they used that to make a hole in the wall and managed to flee into the forest at the back of the house.

In the middle of our rescue operation a mini-bus filled with Croatian HVO soldiers comes driving towards us at high speed. I pointed my heavy machinegun at them and armed it. The warning shot I intended to fire turned out not to be necessary though. At the mere sight of the muzzle the soldiers became so frightened that they drove off the road. We let the trembling soldiers leave the scene in the company of two other HVO soldiers that had been captured and disarmed by the Guard/Escort-SISU at the other end of the column.

After making sure we had gotten all refugees and loaded them into our already crammed SISU-vehicles we drove to the village Pominici on the Bosnian side of the front. Our SISU was so full of people that I had to stand on one leg the whole trip there. Since the rear was packed with refugees, any attempt to lessen the target silhouette by crouching behind the machinegun was made impossible and I felt like my entire upper body was a glow-in-the-dark target for the Croatian snipers.

I will never forget the emotions and facial expressions that met us in Pominici. People desperately looking for relatives. The relief of finding the one they were looking for. The despair when someone wasn't there. At least I had an affirmation that our presence was not only justified. It was essential.

Now we just had to get back. That turned out to be more difficult than we expected. By now the HVO knew what we had done. They didn't like that we had "picked sides" by helping the refugees. Probably it also was against UN directives for the area. At a checkpoint in the southern outskirts of Vares we were stopped. Major Ekberg asked for advice on the radio. Ulf Henricsson himself answered.

"-This is Victor Lima One. Are there any mines there?"
"-Give them two minutes - then run you the damn thing down!"

That was the first roadblock, but far from the last, to be smashed under the Nordic battalion's armoured vehicles.

We ran a gauntlet through Vares before we were stopped by soldiers with anti tank weapons. Four solders with LAWs were fanned out in front of the convoy. The situation was so tense one careless move would immediately have set off a battle. As I was standing at the heavy machinegun in the front-most vehicle I realized I would be the first to fall. Add to that the machinegun was mounted on an anti-aircraft carriage completely devoid of armour protection. I was an easy target. At the same time I realized my weapon was the only thing that would get us out of there if the battle started. I started preparing for my own death by giving orders and assigning targets for the others in the rear of the vehicle. The most important thing was that someone took my weapon when - not if - I fell.

The Croatian military policeman that was in charge of the HVO soldiers stepped up with a couple of men to negotiate. He had 25 hash marks on the butt if his AK47. One for each enemy he had killed. Major Ekberg and the interpreter Ekeheim hade stepped out of the SISU and were now negotiating with the Croatians. The situation was tense. Very tense. After some time of negotiating the tension seemed to ease a bit. We thought the danger was over - but just like a letter in the mail a mentally disturbed HVO soldier came in a white VW Golf. Something had snapped with him when his entire family was obliterated by a grenade. For some reason he now hated the UN for this.

He stepped out of his car among the negotiating Swedes and Croatians, mad as a hornet, and grabbed on the HVO soldiers' LAWs in order to fire it against the SISU behind ours. In an instant the situation escalated and I had time to think "Shit, this is really happening now".

This was one of those moments in your life when time stands completely still. I saw in the eyes of the Croatian soldier that was in the sights of my 12.7 millimetre machinegun that he understood what was about to happen.

I'm pulling it...

But - a fraction of a second before the first projectiles from my heavy machinegun would have struck the chest of the first of the four LAW-carrying soldiers fifty meters in front of us, one of the Croatians managed to strike the somewhat antisocial man with a straight punch and remove the LAW from him. I eased up on the trigger and felt I must have been right on the pressure point of it. So damn close. Maybe there wouldn't be any killing after all.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Had he had time to aim the LAW at the SISU, a series of events would have been started that couldn't have ended with anything but us or the Croatians being the only ones standing up. I felt my legs were shaking continuously. Partly from the psychical strain and partly from standing in the exact same strenuous position for half an hour.

The LAW soldier in my sights didn't like the fact that I was aiming at him and changed position. Not so strange after the incident with the LAW snatcher. I followed him with the barrel. He showed with unmistakable gestures that he felt provoked. I didn't care. We stared each other out, and neither wanted to be the first to back down. In the middle of our psychological duel I leaned out from behind the machinegun, winked and smiled at him. I won the battle. He became so flabbergasted he didn't really know what to do or how to behave, and started pacing like a confused chicken.

Suddenly Colonel Ulf Henricssons jeep shows up out of nowhere. The short statured - but oh so powerful - colonel steps out and starts shouting orders at both Swedes and HVO soldiers. The HVO men look almost astonished, and like magic Henricsson dominates the scene in a manner few people are capable of. He takes control of the situation and defuses it completely. We quite simply leave, leaving behind a large group of open-mouthed HVO soldiers.

We return to the camp for a debriefing of what the refugees have told us about Stupni Do. Conclusion: we ARE going into that village. Two mech inf platoons from 8th and 10th coy are selected for the task. For the first time in a very, very long time Swedish troops are ordered to get ready to take terrain. The platoons are assigned the north and south access roads to Stupni Do and set out.

At the same time we give colonel Henricsson a ride to the Bobovac Brigade headquarters in our SISU. The Croatians are given one last chance to let us in. If they don't, we will go in anyway. Exactly what the very resolute Henricsson said to the Bobovac Brigade commander I don't know - but the commander comes out personally and drives ahead of us in his personal maroon Vaz Niva to make sure we are let into the village.

Fairly undramatically we meet up with the mech inf platoon assigned to the northern approach of the village. There is also an armoured jeep there with a near suicidal television crew. Henricsson decides to take advantage of the situation and invites the crew to document what has happened. The colonel walks with the journalists ahead of our SISU as we slowly roll into Stupni Do.

Not one house in the village had been spared. Everything had been blown up, burnt down, destroyed. At first glance the village seemed devoid of people, but just after a few minutes we find the charred remains of a person. After a careful search a total of twenty corpses are found, among them a child about eight to ten years old that had been kicked to death. Three women that had tried to hide in a potato store had had their throats slit. Then they had been shot in the head. The corpses were still desperately holding hands. When a pioneer platoon later on are to carry out the bodies they find a booby trap had been set by putting an armed grenade in the armpit of one of the bodies. It falls out on the floor without detonating.

The entire village was completely eradicated. A single cow and some cat had in some strange way escaped annihilation. Smoke was smouldering from the foundations of the houses. Water was bizarrely enough running from the blown up water mains. A sole yellow child's boot was on a slope outside one of the houses. I'm still wondering what had happened to the child that just some day ago been spending its time happily playing. Maybe the child was one of the little girls that were said to have been burned alive with gasoline for the murderers' amusement.

Colonel Henricsson stepped back into the SISU. We were now going to Pominici to interview the refugees thoroughly. We were all very dogged. An HVO soldier was no longer worth anything in the eyes of Nordbat. The respect we possibly had felt before was completely gone. As we are driving through the southern approach to Stupni Do the HVO has mined the passage under the railway viaduct we have to pass. On the other side is the mech inf platoon assigned to the southern approach. Colonel Henricsson gives the nearest HVO soldier a raging excoriation. The man is horror-struck and defends himself by saying he "just a soldier!". But he refuses to remove the mines and we simply drive up the slopes and over the railway. In the middle of the rail yard we greet the mech inf platoon heading the other way.

We are once again stopped at the checkpoint we forced our way through earlier that day. They don't intend to get run over again and have placed mines across the road. A furious colonel Henricsson jumps out of the SISU with his interpreter Ekenheim. Henricsson explains that the mines will be removed, or "we will blow your head off", pointing demonstratively at my heavy machinegun. The muzzle is pointed right at the HVO soldier's forehead and judging by his face it must have looked as if it was the muzzle of a howitzer. Ekenheim simultaneously translates Henricssons berating of the soldier, amusingly enough with the same lively gestures.

The entire crew of the vehicle is standing in the hatches, ready to fire. One man is even in a kneeling position on top of the vehicle. Our grim expressions and determined gazes makes the HVO soldiers realize that the discussion is over. None of them dare touch their guns. Nordbat is not negotiating anymore today.

When nothing happens colonel Henricsson picks up the first mine from the road himself and throws is carelessly at a pile of tires at a house wall. He picks up another mine and sends it in the same direction. Finally he forces the checkpoint commander as a final defeat to pick up the last mine himself. Stooped over he trots along with the mine in his hands. The road is clear and we continue.

In the same insane pace we continue our rampage in Vares for another few days. Nordbat Two is no longer negotiating about the "freedom of movement" the UN was entitled to according to an agreement with the fighting parties. Those who stand in our way we run over. As per order by colonel Henricsson we are authorized for immediate fire for effect. In his own words: "We shot the warning shot last Thursday".

In three days we sleep a total of a few hours. The little sleep we get is usually in a firing position at the camp with sleeping-bags wrapped around the body in order to not freeze to death. We eat frozen "pyttipanna” (hashed meat and potatoes) that we chisel from large tin cans. That's when someone suddenly realizes we're being benefit taxed for free food and lodging. For the same amount as if we had stayed at the Scandic Hotel eating entrecote.

The Canadian troops assigned to us as reinforcements consider us to be crazy already on the first day and leave us as they deem the situation to be too dangerous. Instead, a couple of days later we get reinforced by a company from the French foreign legion.

The non-Swedish UN-generals, who previously were sceptical towards Nordbat 2 changed their attitude in the blink of an eye after Vares. Comrades from my platoon were giving Ulf Henricsson a ride to the UN Headquarters at Kiseljak outside Sarajevo a couple of days after the climax.

In the old Olympic Games motel that housed "BH Command" there was a large canteen where all the personnel dined. When a small group of Swedish soldiers get in the food queue with colonel Henricsson up front everyone in the room stands up, from privates to generals, and applauds. Nordbat 2 had made themselves a reputation in Bosnia.

The British general and UN commander in Bosnia Sir Michael Rose, former chief of 22 SAS Regiment (and previously one of the strongest critics towards the Swedish presence) later wants the Swedish battalion to be a part of a special rapid reaction unit to be deployed in special situations anywhere in Bosnia. The Swedish government declined. Sir Michael Rose later wrote a debate article back home in the UK where the Swedish soldiers are mentioned as a shining example of how a conscript based military system also can produce soldiers of the highest international ranking.

One of the "suicidal" journalists on site in Vares was Anthony Lloyd, himself a former soldier in the British army and a Northern Ireland and Gulf War veteran. In his book "My war gone by, I miss it so" he mentions the Swedes in the following manner:

"The men inside (the APC) might have been UN but they were playing by a completely different set of rules.

They were Swedes; in terms of individual intelligence, integrity and single-mindedness I was to find them among the most impressive soldiers I had ever encountered.

In Vares their moment had come."

Best regards
Ricardo Nunes